2011. What was that about?

Doesn't it seem like 2011 lasted a lot longer than a mere 365 days? This was a year that was up and down and up and down. In the tech world, the year officially starts in Las Vegas as CES. That's where we go to see the largest TV ever. I have absolutely no idea why this is important, but ...

Robert Dow

Doesn't it seem like 2011 lasted a lot longer than a mere 365 days? This was a year that was up and down and up and down. In the tech world, the year officially starts in Las Vegas as CES. That's where we go to see the largest TV ever. I have absolutely no idea why this is important, but I think it's a guy thing. You can't buy the TVs they won't be practical for year but sure as Christmas, big TVs come to CES. As one technology starts reaching a practical limit, then comes the next. And this year, like last year, the race will shift to OLEDs, bright, light displays that will make us think we need a new TV. We just saw a snazzy new slim phone with a beautiful OLED touch screen. Suddenly, my phone liked drab and fat. Kind of how a lot of us feel the day after Christmas.

Last year there were Smart TVs. They're connected TVs and the practical manifestation of the technology has been Google TV and the Logitech's Google TV set top box. Just this Christmas Logitech gave us the last update to their box. Logitech is getting out of the biz because the support costs and returns were killing them. It's too bad because the latest version of Google TV really is pretty smart. The firmware upgrade came to us from Logitech seamlessly and painlessly. The interface is simple to understand and much more attractive, and when I turn on the television, there's always something on. Really. So yeah, I might have to rent the content, or I'm already paying for it via cable or Netflix, but still, the thing really works. Maybe 2012 will be the year for Smart TVs because it sure wasn't 2011, just like it wasn't 2010, 2009, or 2008. Speculation has reached the near hysteria around an Apple TV of some sort. If it turns out to be true, this is going to be a really critical launch for Apple. If they can make a connected TV fly when Google, Logitech, and Sony couldn't, and without Steve Jobs to weave the web of desire around the thing, then they shouldn't have any trouble protecting the iPhone from Android interlopers or the iPad from Windows attackers.

Last year at CES 2011, Steve Ballmer told the world there would be a version of Windows for the ARM platform. Through the year we learned more about how that might work out. As it looks from here, it's going to be cool, it's going to be revolutionary, but it's not going to be that cool or that revolutionary because it will be a Windows custom built for ARM, sort of like Windows Phone 7 is a Windows built for mobile phone systems. The difference, we all hope, is that there will be more interoperability between PCs and ARM so that content created on one side can be worked with on the other side without a bunch of conversion. But let's not get started on all that because the odds are the technology is going to have to evolve over the next three years and heck it wasn't even out this year.

Tablets were here all year. We have a Samsung Xoom in the house, an Asus Transformer, and a Lenovo Le Pad. Luckily there's not too much fighting over the devices at JPR HQ. The Xoom is mine. It replaces the original Apple iPad and allows me to hold my head up high when others show off their iPad 2. Admittedly, the Android interface is more difficult to use, but we PC people learned how to stare down Mactards long ago. We tell them we actually like to tinker with operating systems and applications. We want to learn how our devices work. We are empowered by the process of learning. It's all a bunch of lies, but we have our dignity. And, after you go through all the rigamarole to learn how to use something, you do feel sort of committed to it. Jon and Robert have each appropriated the Le Pad and the Transformer. The machines are both a little heavier than I like but they accommodate SD memory, which makes them great content machines.

And, as it so happens, in 2011 Apple has finally gotten some serious competition in media. Amazon gave the folks free storage for digital content bought from Amazon, it gave them free Apps to stream or download content to tablets, phones, and iThings. Likewise, Netflix has a good TV subscriptions service, if it can stay in business long enough to make its streaming business model pay off. In 2012, we're going to get to see if people will continue to put up with Apple's very well furnished walled garden or if they'll venture out into the wilderness of Android.

Ironically, consumers seem to be ready for a little adventure, but hardware manufacturers are the scardy-cats and for good reason. They're having to figure out how to deliver low cost machines and make a profit. In 2012 the only winners will be those companies who can subsidize the devices, to sell additional content, and right now that's Amazon, Apple, and the console providers. Microsoft is sitting on its Zune ecosystem but it has just recently announced the death of the Zune player. Instead, Microsoft has plans for the Zune service on Xbox, phones, and ARM based tablets.

In 2012, we're also going to see the arrival of stereographic applications that take advantage of the Kinect SDK. Microsoft has just released it, and as it turns out, the Kinect has a lot more tricks up its sleeve than just gesture recognition. And, by the way, devices are likely to get a lot talkier. It'll be great, people will be waving their hands and talking to their toys. We'll be like a bunch of hyperactive 3 year olds.

So, we pack up the Christmas decorations and then pack our bags for CES 2012. This might be Steve Ballmer's last keynote. The company announced that they're looking at new deals for 2013.
In 2011 companies put much more money into their own events than they did industry wide events like CES. If the trend continues, we'll have more opportunities to watch movies on our tablets while traveling. We're not so sure that's a good thing?